April 7 , 2013
The story of “Doubting Thomas” is a familiar one to most people raised in the Christian faith. Thomas, the Disciple, was – according to the Gospel of John – not present when the Resurrected Jesus appeared to the rest of the (male) Disciples. (Note: The female Disciples had already seen the empty tomb and tried to tell the male disciples, who initially did not believe them either … ) The (male) Disciples told Thomas they had seen the Lord, and Thomas would not believe them because he had not seen Him. Jesus again appears to the Disciples and invites Thomas to “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27). Thomas sees, touches, and cries “My Lord and my God!” (vv.28). Jesus then says to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (vv.29). The lesson was, of course, “Don’t be a Doubting Thomas.” The end.
Well, maybe not. If we dig a little further into this Scripture, we might find some details that make Thomas a little more sympathetic to us, not to mention relevant to modern people who are struggling with belief.
The first detail to note is that, when Jesus first appears to the Disciples (without Thomas), ” the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews” (vv.19). The text does not say that the Disciples opened the door and invited Jesus in – it simply says “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you'” (ibid.) The Resurrection did not happen because the Disciples welcomed it and embraced it. They were locked behind doors in their fear. The Resurrection came to them, in spite of walls, locked doors and fear, and stood among them. So if voluntary belief is the precondition for Christ’s appearance to us, that certainly did not seem to be the case with the Disciples, even without Doubting Thomas.
The second detail to note is that the first thing that Jesus does (after reassuring the Disciples with “Peace be with you”) is “He showed them His hands and His side” (vv.20). Only after that did the Disciples “rejoice when they saw the Lord” (ibid.) The Resurrected Christ was not whole. He was still wounded, with the marks of the nails in His hands and the wound from the spear in His side. The promise of Resurrection does not necessarily mean that God heals all our wounds and makes everything all better. The Resurrection means that we can rise again and bring peace to others, in spite of our wounds, and in spite of being given up for dead.
The final detail to note is that – after showing them that He is still wounded – Jesus sends the Disciples out into the world to forgive (or not) and breathes the Holy Spirit onto them:Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23).
The root for the word “inspiration” is the same as the root for the word “respiration”: Spiritus. In order to be in-spired to leave their locked room and come out into the (still hostile) world, the Disciples have to receive the breath (Holy Spirit) and reassurance of the still-wounded Jesus. In order to be free to forgive (or not), the Disciples have to be freed from their fear. They have to be in-spired. Without inspiration, they would still be trapped in fear and distrust of the outside world. They would have no choice but to sit behind locked doors in distrust and unforgiveness.
So there was a great deal of doubt and distrust going on among the Disciples, long before Doubting Thomas showed up in the first place. And the only thing that could break through those locked doors of mistrust and in-spire the Disciples to come out was the Resurrected (but still-wounded) Christ. The message of the Resurrection was carried along with Christ’s wounds. It was only the testimony of His wounds that gave the Disciples the inspiration and courage they needed to break out of their fear, come out of the locked room, and bear witness to the world.
The decision whether or not to “come out” is one that is fraught with anxiety for many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) people today. Many LGBT people have locked their authentic selves away from a world that (in many areas) is still hostile to LGBT people living openly and with integrity. Many LGBT people have locked the Church out of their lives (justifiably) because of the wounding and condemnation they have received there. Fear and mistrust – of the Church, of society, and sometimes of themselves – keep the doors locked.
Fortunately, the Spirit of the risen Christ comes to us in spite of locked doors, mistrust and bigotry. The Spirit of the risen Christ comes to us when we hear the testimony of other people who have been wounded by the world’s bigotry, were given up on by society, and have still lived on to bring peace and inspiration to others. When we see others’ wounds and hear their uncensored voices, we are in-spired to come out and be heard as well. We realize that we can choose freedom and trust, as well as the prison of doubt and mistrust. When people are “coming out”, it is absolutely critical that the Church be there to visibly and tangibly support them. Failing to do so (or condemning them in bigotry) betrays the spirit of the risen Christ, who brought people out from behind locked doors with His testimony, His love and His wounds.
Recently, professional football player Brendon Ayanbadejo has announced that four football players may be preparing to “come out” for the first time in National Football League history. Let the Church be there for them, in the Spirit of the risen Christ, and let the Church be there for all people who hover, waiting to come out from behind locked doors.